The 4th annual Mid-Ohio Challenge, NASCAR Xfinity Series, race weekend was a busy one with a total of five races leading up to the “main event”. Among the categories raced this weekend was Formula 4, a newly created (in the U.S.) open wheel series. It is a stepping stone for young drivers transitioning up the racing ladder. F4 would complete three races by the end of the weekend; the Trans Am series, similar to that of the Swedish V8 Thunder Cars, would race a further two contests.
The 75 lap 169.35 mile, Mid-Ohio Challenge “main event” was held at the high speed 2.258 mile, 13-turn road course located in Lexington, Ohio. The track is one of only three road courses the NASCAR Xfinity Series will run during the 2016 season. The other courses are Watkins Glen and Road America. Mid-Ohio has been called “The classic American road course.” Drivers describe the track as extremely technical with long, fast-flowing corners and a lot of undulation.
The theme of the weekend seemed to be the ever changing Ohio weather. The weather wavered between sunny, overcast, and rain. This left many of the NASCAR Xfinity Series teams asking themselves rain or no rain? Race set up was an extremely tricky proposition.
By lap 2 of the race, we had our answer. The first caution flag of the day was due to–you guessed it–rain. By lap 15, we saw the second yellow of the young race as the #97 of TJ Bell went off track at turn eleven. On lap 21, the #2 Rheem Chevrolet of Pole sitter Sam Hornish Jr. had spun at turn four. The next major event on track was an accident involving cars #20, #48, #62, #90, and #98 at turn one. The final caution flag of the day waved yet again for the #97 of Bell on lap 71.
The green flag waved at lap 74, leaving one lap to decide who would win the thrilling rain- soaked race. The #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Justin Marks took the checkered flag. Marks, earned it, leading a total of 43 laps of the 75 lap challenge. This was Justin Marks’s first victory in 25 Xfinity Series races. Ohioan Sam Hornish Jr., would finish 3.707 seconds behind in second, followed by Team Penske driver, Ryan Blaney in 3rd.
Cars running off track due to the wet conditions was the norm. Drivers keeping their cars on track seemed to be the “Challenge” of the appropriately- named race. In total, the yellow flag waved 8 times for 32 laps. 44% of this 3 hour 10-minute race ran under caution. The race had 13 lead changes with an average green flag run lasting only 4.7 laps.
Out of the 40-car field, there were 6 International drivers (read as non-American), with one driver representing the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, Israeli Alon Day. Day, really impressed me as the standout of the day (bad pun intended). After qualifying 22nd, he ran as high as third and finished 13th. After the race, the #40 FLWaterfront.com Dodge driver, had this to say about his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut “Pretty tough race”. He went on to explain that he had plenty of experience racing in the rain in Europe. “I knew I had the speed and had to attack as soon as possible.” Day expects to do five NASCAR races on this side of the Atlantic, depending on budget and sponsorship. I look forward to watching him further develop as a driver. He will be one to watch in the future. Look for him at a track near you!
Photos from Mid-Ohio Challenge
Photo credit: Stephen Dando/Pure Thunder Racing